Development of an Intervention Setting Ontology for behaviour change: Specifying where interventions take place

Emma Norris* (Corresponding Author), Marta M Marques* (Corresponding Author), Ailbhe N Finnerty, Alison J Wright, Robert West, Janna Hastings, Poppy Williams, Rachel N Carey, Michael P Kelly, Marie Johnston, Susan Michie* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Contextual factors such as an intervention's setting are key to understanding how interventions to change behaviour have their effects and patterns of generalisation across contexts. The intervention's setting is not consistently reported in published reports of evaluations. Using ontologies to specify and classify intervention setting characteristics enables clear and reproducible reporting, thus aiding replication, implementation and evidence synthesis. This paper reports the development of a Setting Ontology for behaviour change interventions as part of a Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology, currently being developed in the Wellcome Trust funded Human Behaviour-Change Project. Methods: The Intervention Setting Ontology was developed following methods for ontology development used in the Human Behaviour-Change Project: 1) Defining the ontology's scope, 2) Identifying key entities by reviewing existing classification systems (top-down) and 100 published behaviour change intervention reports (bottom-up), 3) Refining the preliminary ontology by literature annotation of 100 reports, 4) Stakeholder reviewing by 23 behavioural science and public health experts to refine the ontology, 5) Assessing inter-rater reliability of using the ontology by two annotators familiar with the ontology and two annotators unfamiliar with it, 6) Specifying ontological relationships between setting entities and 7) Making the Intervention Setting Ontology machine-readable using Web Ontology Language (OWL) and publishing online. Results: The Intervention Setting Ontology consists of 72 entities structured hierarchically with two upper-level classes: Physical setting including Geographic location, Attribute of location (including Area social and economic condition, Population and resource density sub-levels) and Intervention site (including Facility, Transportation and Outdoor environment sub-levels), as well as Social setting. Inter-rater reliability was found to be 0.73 (good) for those familiar with the ontology and 0.61 (acceptable) for those unfamiliar with it. Conclusion: The Intervention Setting Ontology can be used to code information from diverse sources, annotate the setting characteristics of existing intervention evaluation reports and guide future reporting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124
Number of pages18
JournalWellcome open research
Early online date10 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Grant information: This work is supported by the Wellcome Trust through a collaborative award to the Human Behaviour-Change Project [201524]. MMM is funded by a Marie-Sklodowska-Curie fellowship [EU H2020 EDGE program grant agreement No. 713567].


  • ontology
  • behaviour change
  • context
  • evidence synthesis
  • intervention reporting
  • stakeholder review
  • Context
  • Ontology
  • Stakeholder review
  • Behaviour change
  • Intervention reporting
  • Evidence synthesis


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